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Business owners worry Leavenworth’s downtown street closure for social distancing will lead to more financial hardships

In recent weeks there has been an uptick in visitors, which helps businesses, but the mayor worries it also poses risks.

LEAVENWORTH, Wash. — The mayor of Leavenworth is closing parts of downtown to help with social distancing.

But for a town whose businesses rely on the 2 million tourists they see a year, some business owners worry this could add to the financial hardships they’re already facing.

“My parents opened the Wood Shop Toy Store 46 years ago next June,” said Kevin Rieke, the owner of several Leavenworth stores including The Hat Shop and The Wood Shop.

His businesses have been shut down since the start of the stay-at-home order in March.

“We had to lay off 14 employees at our particular business,” Rieke said.

Since Leavenworth runs on tourism and the stay at home order prevents people from traveling, businesses in town are suffering.

“There are a lot of businesses that may have to go away. I know a lot of businesses are really on their last month’s savings,” said Rieke.

In recent weeks there has been an uptick in visitors, which helps businesses, but Mayor Carl Florea worries it also poses risks.

“People were crowded onto the sidewalk and not doing social distancing and also not wearing masks and it’s real concern,” said Mayor Florea.

He decided to close some of the main streets in downtown so tourists don’t have the option to park or drive through.

“By closing the streets down, the busier streets, it gives room for social distancing,” he said.

While many businesses welcome the change, some are worried this could add to the financial losses they’ve already experienced.

“There are a lot of business though that do rely on people being able to drive right up to their space. We need visitors to even pay our bills and so we’re all stressed,” explained Rieke.

The goal isn’t to cut down on business, according to Mayor Florea, it’s to allow for it in a way that’s safe during the pandemic.

“Our retail stores, our restaurants can spill out into the street and use some of that street for added retail space,” he said.

Rieke said businesses are working with city leaders to find a way to protect their livelihood and keep their city safe.

“We’re not open anyway, so what it has actually forced us to do, is to really be serious about having one cohesive unit as a business community. We’re going to be open as soon as we’re allowed to be open,” said Rieke.

The city of Leavenworth is handing out masks to visitors and hopes they still come, but Mayor Florea said it needs to be done in a way that’s safe.

Mayor Florea added that the open space will help during Phase 2 of the governor's plan to reopen the state, when retail and restaurants are allowed to open at limited capacity.

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